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Florida legislators talk of acting

Republicans are considering a special session or a federal lawsuit over the Supreme Court decision.

By DIANE RADO

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Pressured by an avalanche of e-mails, phone calls and pleas to take action, Republican leaders of the state Legislature say they may intervene to resolve Florida's presidential election.

Among the options being considered are a special legislative session, and a federal lawsuit to challenge the state Supreme Court's decision to allow hand recounts in South Florida to continue and be added to final results.

The idea of bringing the Legislature into the election drama was floated shortly after the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday night. Bush representative James A. Baker suggested the Legislature might have to "take some action."

But legislative leaders are moving cautiously, aware that any action by the Florida Legislature would create intense partisan fighting.

"The gravity of this situation may require consideration of legislative action at some point prior to the regular legislative session. However, it is too early to make such a determination," Senate President John McKay said in a written statement Wednesday.

House Speaker Tom Feeney also said he would not take any steps until he gets advice from a prominent law professor whom he would not identify.

But Feeney lashed out at the Florida Supreme Court, whose ruling on the hand counts was considered a victory for Democratic Vice President Al Gore. Feeney ran for lieutenant governor in 1994 on Republican Jeb Bush's ticket. Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, lost that year. But he won the Governor's Mansion in 1998.

"The judicial branch has clearly overstepped their powers," Feeney said, describing the situation as a "potential constitutional crisis."

"The court showed a tremendous lack of respect for the Legislature," Feeney said. "The court continues to supplant its personal preferences over the statutory law of Florida."

The Legislature could pursue a federal lawsuit to attempt to overturn the Supreme Court, said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who is expected to be the new Senate majority leader.

That would be an alternative to a special legislative session, which King said McKay is reluctant to pursue. "He (McKay) wants to do it only if it's the last thing that can be done," King said.

A special session would alienate Democrats at a time when the Senate is trying for bipartisanship.

"You could take bipartisanship and throw it out the window," King said.

In a special session, the Legislature could appoint Florida's 25 electors in the event that court battles continue and no winner is named by the time the Electoral College meets to name a president in December.

Florida doesn't want to lose its votes in the Electoral College, said House Majority Leader Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "If there is gridlock . . . we are going to step up to bat," said Fasano, who appeared on a variety of news shows Wednesday to talk about the possibility of a special session.

Democrats in the House were immediately critical: The Republican-led chamber would presumably appoint electors who would cast their votes for George W. Bush.

"The notion that the Legislature would decide the next president of the United States instead of the voters of Florida is unacceptable," said House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Rossin also issued a statement saying a special session should not be called "for the purpose of overturning the will of the people or intervening in this presidential election."

A special session could also put Jeb Bush in a difficult situation if he had to act on legislation that could affect the outcome of the election. He has resolved to stay out of the controversy between his brother and Gore.

His spokeswoman said Bush had not talked to Feeney or McKay on Wednesday and would not be expected to call a special session. Generally, the governor, or legislative leaders, call special sessions.

Citizens are clamoring for an end to the election, sending thousands of e-mails and bombarding legislative offices with phone calls.

King said he hasn't gotten so many calls from people in his 14 years in the Legislature.

"Most of them are saying: Do something, we're tired," King said.

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